Review Summary: If you would please turn in your bible to beauty tips according to Forest Whitaker. In the third chapter of the third line. Brother Ali would you please read to the choir for me son?
Over the last decade, the American Mid-West has emerged at the forefront of the hip-hop world. While some Midwestern acts like Detroit's Eminem and Chicago's Common have worked their ways to large scale commercial success, one look deeper reveals a plethora of quality emcees in tune with the problems of the day to day. At first look Minneapolis, Minnesota's Brother Ali, a Jewish born albino, is about as far away from the archetypal image of someone who verses about the urban struggle as you can get. A hip-hop Yankee in king Arthur's court. Despite this image dichotomy, Brother Ali is a man brimming with personality and insight, and his 2003 album Shadows on the Sun
shows a him at the top of his game.
Brother Ali is a master storyteller. His bitingly personal narratives not only showcase the struggles of the community to which he relates, but his own battles do to his appearance. "Room With A View" is a bitter and powerful state of the union of inner city strife that challenges the likes of Mos Def's "Mathematics". From issues such as parenting, drugs, and poverty, Brother Ali paints himself as a documentarian in its closing refrain of "I see all this from the desk that I write my rhymes from / Pen starts to scribble on it's own, my minds numb / But you can call me modern urban Norman Rockwell / I paint a picture of the spot well"
. On a more personal level, "Forest Whitaker" is Brother Ali's affirmation of who he is. Ali makes light of his physical appearance in its opening verse of "Hey, yo, dependin' on the day, and dependin' on what I ate / I'm anywhere from 20 to 35 pounds overweight / I got red eyes, and one of 'em s lazy / and they both squint when the sun shines so I look crazy"
. Even though Brother Ali is describing himself, lines like "I'm not mean and got a neck full of razor bumps / I'm not the classic profile of what the ladies want / You might think I'm depressed as can be / But when I look in the mirror I see sexy-ass me
make "Forrest Whitaker" an individuality anthem that everyone can relate to.
On Shadows on the Sun
Brother Ali also shows off his skills as a battle emcee. "I'm chokin' players like I'm Bob Knight, Choke the coaches like I'm Sprewell"
spits Ali on "Champion". "Boy, I grab a mic and rock you like you're Triple 5 Soul / With a civilized flow, but if you say my name I'm like Beetlejuice / Dice you up and slap you till your teeth are loose"
continues Ali. "Missing Teeth" sees Ali cutting deep with lines like "You and your little bitch buddies think you're Thelma & Louise / Cause you got a drum machine and you throw jealous to the breeze/ You need to respect a ***in' legend when he breathes".
For as good as Brother Ali is, Shadows on the Sun
owes just as much of it's success to the soulful beats that have come to be expected from Ant. Just like his work in Atmosphere, Ant is a master of matching moods. When Ali gets serious Ant delivers in the same vein with murky beats that are just as dark and menacing as Ali's subject matter. On the album's lighter moments like "Prince Charming" and "Forest Whitaker" he conjures up classic 70's soul and R&B molding a silky smooth backing of punchy bass and infectious keyboard hooks.
Shadows On the Sun
is two modern hip-hop's all-stars at their best. With Brother Ali's powerful mixture of personal exploration and inner city politics and Ant's stellar production, Shadows on the Sun
is a quintessential piece of hip-hop in the new millennium.